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The Best Gift A Business Owner Can Ever Receive

I have a dilemma approaching that I need some advice on. This summer, I will be traveling to Greece, where I will spend a month taking part in an archaeological field school. After that, I will be going alone to Santorini, an incredibly popular vacation destination, where I will be staying for a week. While I have not yet booked my accommodations, I know what to expect. The hotel that I stay in will have less than 20 rooms, be operated by the couple who own it, and, while small and not elaborate, will be devoted to the people staying there. According to reviews and guide books, this may include the owners personally driving me places free of charge, acting as concierge in suggesting restaurants, shops, and activities, giving me a welcome gift, and generally doing everything possible to make my stay perfect.

My question, then, regards how I should repay this over-the-top kindness and hospitality. I plan to bring a gift from my hometown for the owners, but am unsure what to bring. As I said, I will be spending a month traveling and studying in Greece, so something large/awkward/heavy is out of the question. I also want to get them something they will actually enjoy – so while a coffee table book of Canadian photos might seem like an ideal gift, it also seems (at least to me) a little too generic. Or am I wrong about that? I just don’t know. My hometown has several prominent vineyards, so I have toyed with bringing them a bottle of local wine. However, I can’t decide if that is a good idea, as in, “Here, this is a different take on something you are world famous for”, or a really dumb one, as in, “Here, I brought you something that can’t possibly be as good as what you already have”.

Secondly, because so much of the work at these small hotels is done by the owners, I am unsure of how I should be tipping. In Greece, tips for housekeeping, waiters, and busboys are all considered appropriate etiquette. However, if it is the owner of the hotel, for whom I already have a gift, who is cleaning my room or serving my dinner, am I still expected to leave them a tip?

I want to leave a positive impression on the people who are going to be putting so much effort into making my trip so memorable, and I don’t want this question lingering over me. So I put it to you, the Etiquette Queen, as to what is an appropriate host-gift, and if said gift is enough or not. Thanks!!!!  0317-12

You might want to check to see if bringing wine across the border into another country is allowed by Customs or airport security before purchasing.

My personal preference for gifts of this nature are small food items particularly native to where I live.  For example, for me that would be small packages of Moravian spice cookies, pimento cheese straws, praline candy, roasted peanuts and if I have the room and am not flying, a jar of BBQ sauce or locally favorite soda like Cheerwine.  The idea is to give food items the recipient in another state or country isn’t likely to find in their local grocery store.    Food is like bringing a small part of your home with you to share and enjoyment of food is universal.  Depending on the circumstances, I might also give a jigsaw puzzle of the Outer Banks lighthouses.

For proprietors of a business, however, the best gift of all is a good review and references.   If their service is stellar, upon arriving back home write a review for an online site, print  it and mail it to them with a thank you note.   Good businesses in which the owners have a good work ethic are treasures and should be cultivated to stay in business by sending more guests/customers to them.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • anonymous March 20, 2012, 6:10 am

    Generally speaking wine and spirits are allowed across most (if not all) international borders – but has to be in a checked bag when flying. I’ve brought beer home from Prague, wine and vodka to and from Taiwan, rice wine from China, sake from Japan and more and it’s always been OK.

    For international travel, actually the things that are likely to get you in trouble are foodstuffs like the aforementioned peanuts and pimento cheese straws. Nuts, fruit (at least fresh and probably some dried), cheese, meat of any kind, some seeds, most flowers and honey are all big no-nos to and from many countries (of course I can’t speak for all countries)…even in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags. Vacuum-sealed cakes and such tend to be OK (if it’s cooked it’s more likely to get through), and I’ve even brought specialty cakes from Japan to the US not in a vacuum-sealed container but wrapped in a box and they got through, and been OK with pineapple cakes and sweet green bean tea cakes (sealed) from Taiwan despite the former containing fruit as an ingredient.

  • DDP March 20, 2012, 7:27 am

    To me, the host gift is thoughtful and may be appreciated, but it seems too personal for a business transaction (despite their personal touches.) I would show my appreciation in the form of an excellent review (as suggested) and a generous tip.

  • Coralreef March 20, 2012, 7:51 am

    As a fellow Canadian, my go-to hostess gift has always been something maple based. After all, this is a Canadian icon if there is one. Bringing a live beaver may be a bit troublesome. One can a maple syrup is not that heavy or too large and goes very well through customs. And there are always candies and other maple sweets of all types.

    My last trip to Japan, I lugged along two cans of syrup and two bottles of maple liqueur. I was very happy to drop them off with my hosts, but they were received with enthusiasm. It all depends on the foot travel you’ll do with your luggage. If you stay a long time in one place, weight may not be as much of a deterent as you might think.

    I’ve never had problems with alcohol or other liquids in checked baggages, either coming or going. Just make sure it is well protected from impact or crushing. For a direct flight, you can buy alcohol at the duty free and then bring it as is in the cabin, the stuff has already passed inspection. If there is a connecting flight, make sure you can put it in your checked baggage at the connecting airport.

  • Rashea March 20, 2012, 8:03 am

    Consider maple candy. I took some on a visit to England and people loved it, since they really don’t have it over there. It’s a specialty food item they might not get. It’s also something they can put out if it turns out they aren’t fond of it.

  • Bint March 20, 2012, 8:08 am

    Surely it’s worth Googling the local etiquette? You can’t be the first person in such a situation, and it would be worth checking. And I’d book asap if I were you – Santorini is mad in the summer.

    Enjoy Greece – it’s amazing!

  • Chocobo March 20, 2012, 8:19 am

    In my opinion it’s best not to mix business hospitality with social hospitality. Social hospitality is reciprocated through reciprocal gifts and taking a turn being the host, and that is not what is happening here. It’s wonderful that they are such good proprietors, but they are not doing it for free. You are paying them and they are providing services in return, excellent services such as these should be rewarded with a hearty thanks, a good recommendation to others and — best of all — a promise to return soon.

    As for tipping: it is my understanding that you do not tip the owners of an establishment. In a restaurant, if the owner serves your table you do not leave a tip because it is understood that he is already making money off of the establishment, presumably quite a bit more than the servers. However, in this case if you should feel moved to leave a little something extra because of the quality of service in an envelope in your room upon leaving, I don’t think you’ll be cast into etiquette purgatory for it.

  • chicka. March 20, 2012, 8:44 am

    Just so you know, tipping is not expected in Greece, their tip is included in the meal price because they are paid normal wages and not something less like in the US (although with the crisis now who knows). You can still tip, but they don’t expect it. Although they might really appreciate a little something- I just wouldn’t go overboard because then they might borderline get offended.

  • GroceryGirl March 20, 2012, 8:59 am

    Don’t over think it. A gift is a gift and will most likely be accepted graciously, don’t worry if it isn’t the perfect thing for them. As for tipping, I would probably still tip even if the owners also clean the hotel for you. You would tip another person who cleaned the room right? Since you’re tipping for the service, I would still tip.

    Have fun! I spent a week in Santorini this past summer, it was amazing! Make sure you rent a moped or ATV and check out all the hidden corners of the island! It is so worth it!

  • Gracie C. March 20, 2012, 9:04 am

    Anonymous – I think the regulations vary GREATLY, so the Admin’s advice to research the particular place the OP is traveling is sound. I had no problem bringing foodstuff such as the Admin mentioned to and from India, but have watched people have duty free items from one airport confiscated at the next airport (on connection) because that country only allowed their own items to travel through. Mostly it think it’s a difference in carry on vs. checked luggage, but the regulations vary widely, so checking within the confines of her specific itinerary is best.

    Meanwhile, I second the Admin’s advice about regional food stuff (once you know you can transport it). And I most definitely agree with the review. Often the only people who review a place are the small percentage (usually) of people who have had a negative experience.

  • Enna March 20, 2012, 9:29 am

    It depends where you are flying too, best thing to do is to check custom laws as admin suggests. It doesn’t have to be food – could be a little picture of a famous scene form your country of orgin.

  • Gee March 20, 2012, 9:47 am

    One should be cautious about giving wine as a gift. You never know if the person you’re giving it to might be a recovering alcoholic. If so, you don’t want to give them that kind of temptation!

  • Outdoor Girl March 20, 2012, 9:47 am

    Fellow Canadian here. I would take a small jug of maple syrup, if it is allowed. I know it has been a popular international gift in the past as a family friend would buy some from us for exchaging with others on his international jaunts. If you aren’t from an area where maple syrup is made, I would take some other reasonably local nibble that is allowed, that is reasonably unique. Ice wine, maybe?

    When you get home, posting an excellent review would be a great thank you, as well. And if you really enjoyed yourself, you could always ship something appropriate after the fact. If they have a games room, you could ship a boardgame or puzzle to add to their collection, for example.

  • Politrix March 20, 2012, 9:51 am

    Mmmm… pineapple cakes from Taiwan! 🙂
    Anonymous, do you know if the ban includes maple syrup? Nothing says “Canada” to me more than real maple syrup. 🙂
    I like the idea of the lighthouse puzzle, too… but I’d think anything with a Canadian flag would be appropriate, since you wouldn’t be able to find it anywhere else …other than the factory in China where it was probably made 😉

  • Xtina March 20, 2012, 10:31 am

    Take them something iconic from your country. Others have mentioned maple something–that would be something they’re unlikely to easily find in Greece. The book isn’t a terrible idea, but not all that unique. Don’t beat yourself up trying to figure it out–I’m sure any gesture of kindness would be appreciated.

    As for the tipping customs, better read up on the ‘net as to what’s normal there–there are tons of travel websites and message boards that can help you out.

  • Mom of 3 Teens March 20, 2012, 10:46 am

    I have traveled all over the world and have been to Europe many times.

    Anything liquid is problematic, as it must be transported in checked luggage. Bottled liquid is also bulky and makes a horrible mess if the bottle is broken. Thus, the bottle must be securely wrapped and somehow sealed, adding to the bulk. If the TSA inspects the luggage, that wrapping and secure sealing can get messed up. I advise against wine, maple syrup (yum!) or anything else like that. It’s just too much trouble. (I used to take wine to Europe in my carry-on luggage before they inacted the prohibition against liquids in carry-on bags. Now, I avoid liquids other than my own toiletries in 3-oz containers.)

    Maple candy might be better, however that candy would have to stay “fresh” if not refrigerated for a long period of time or exposed to hot weather. Since the intended recipient is at the end of the trip, following exposure to hot weather, it might be a gooey mess by the time the OP gets to the hotel. Maple candy would be OK if the intended recipient was at the first stop, rather than the last stop.

    My own “standard” gift when I travel is a next-year calendar with photos of my own local area. I live in California, so there are many such calendars to choose from with stunning scenery. A calendar packs flat, doesn’t spoil, leak or break and is “disposible” in that the recipient uses it for a year, then throws it away. The recipient does not end up with something that clutters the house forever.

    A calendar is relatively inexpensive and would be a great gift for people she encounters in her trip who go “above and beyond”. She can take a Sharpie pen and enscribe something like “Thanks for the GREAT service!” etc., and sign her name. That would then be proudly displayed where other customers can see it, as evidence the establishment has provided great service to at least one past customer. The OP might want to take several scenic calendars and give them to various people she meets along her journey.

    I like scenery calendars, as they do not make any kind of religious or political statement. Photos of the Sierras, the Golden Gate Bridge and Lake Tahoe are apolitical.

  • Anonymous March 20, 2012, 11:09 am

    I also vote for maple syrup–and I agree that it should be the real kind, not the Aunt Jemima “pancake syrup” that’s all sugar and chemicals. I’ve only ever seen real maple syrup in glass bottles, so it’d be best to pack the bottle in a Ziploc bag (ideally the good kind with an actual sliding zipper), and then wrap that in a towel, so it doesn’t break. If you add in a box of “just add water” pancake mix, then the owners will be able to enjoy an authentic Canadian breakfast. Oh, and if the couple has elementary-school-aged kids, I’ve found that kids that age (especially boys) always go mental for mini hockey sticks.

  • Cat March 20, 2012, 12:29 pm

    I’d check with your local Greek Orthodox Church as to customs or with someone who has actually lived in Greece. Cultures vary with what is an insult and what is a compliment. A friend of mine from Liverpool, England, was shocked when I took my sister-in-law in Florida a gift of fresh roses. Evidently not done over there, ok over the pond.

  • Vicki March 20, 2012, 12:39 pm

    Maple syrup is also sold in plastic jugs and metal cans. That avoids the problems of glass in luggage and the size limit on liquids in carry-ons. I’ve gotten good dark syrup in cans at Marche Atwater in Montreal (a large marketplace with a few dozen different shops inside), and I suspect it’s available elsewhere. (My current plastic jug of dark maple syrup is from a farmer’s market in New York, and I don’t remember whether maple syrup is sold in plastic jugs in Canada, but it seems likely.)

  • Pat in Toulouse March 20, 2012, 1:07 pm

    I wouldn’t bring a gift for the hotel owners. As said above, it would be mixing business with social. If they really went out of their way for you, then you can still mail them a gift after you get back home. If you really do want to bring something, though, I would pack a couple of calendars like mentioned above, or postcards of your town and your area, maple candy or maple syrup (maple syrup is what I alway beg my Canadian friends to bring, as what we get here in France is not as good). You can also use them as hostess gifts if you are invited somewhere.

  • Jayhawk March 20, 2012, 2:06 pm

    I think a gift is a nice gesture. Instead of hauling it for several weeks during your trip, what about sending it when you get back home, together with a nice note?

  • Library Diva March 20, 2012, 2:21 pm

    I don’t get the concern about “mixing business with social” in this instance. OP is not suggesting anything inappropriate at all by getting them a simple gift to show her appreciation. You could even argue that by the nature of their business, they’re already sort of blurring the lines themselves by driving her all over the island, offering her a nice welcome gift, and just generally offering more than you might expect from a Howard Johnson. Just because you’re paying them a fee for their hospitality doesn’t mean you can’t do something else to show your appreciation.

    I’m not a fan of these artificial compartmentalizations of relationships. You can make some very great friends through work, or by being a customer somewhere. And likewise, your social relationships can even lead to good business ventures. It’s not right to size up every friend you have in terms of how they can further your career, of course, nor is it necessarily appropriate to invite everyone you do business with over to your house to hang out. But there’s no need to draw rigid lines around the people you meet in life to the point where you can’t even give them a token of your appreciation. To me, that’s as silly as telling someone not to congratulate a co-worker on her upcoming wedding because that’s personal and doesn’t belong in the workplace.

    I think all of the suggestions of gifts are good ones. Don’t overthink it, try to get something that represents your homeland (as innkeepers for an international destination, they may even have a collection of such items from previous guests.) relax, and have a good time.

  • SV March 20, 2012, 2:50 pm

    I’m a proud Canadian….go with maple! There are so many wonderful maple flavoured treats to choose from – pick a small selection, as well as a container of maple syrup. What a lovely gift! Not too personal, but with a thoughtful touch of home, and it is something they can share if they wish as well. You can’t go wrong with maple!

  • Kirsten March 20, 2012, 4:31 pm

    Cat, I’m a Brit and I don’t understand why your friend was shocked that you gave someone roses. A friend brought me roses the other day. I don’t think it’s a British thing to not do it, I think it’s just your friend.

  • Jared Bascomb March 20, 2012, 4:49 pm

    I agree – no gift for the owners other than positive online reviews. However, even in a small hotel like this one, it is likely that someone other than the owners will be housekeeping. 20 rooms may be a “small” hotel compared to a Hilton, but that’s still a lot of rooms for two people to clean daily! Expect to tip the cleaning staff, if that’s the local custom.

  • Lynne March 20, 2012, 7:36 pm

    I agree with Library Diva that this is already a case of blurred lines, particularly if the hotel is also the couple’s own residence, and think that a gift would be perfectly appropriate and appreciated.

    In some professions which emphasize the personal relationship, token gifts are routinely given by clients who wish to express their appreciation, and are usually in acknowledgment of the value of the personal relationship, rather than a “tip” for a job well done.

    As a preschool teacher, I receive them often. As a floor manager at a homeless shelter, I and other staff sometimes received them as thank-you’s from a family as they were moving out.

    This sounds like a similar situation. The OP may end up *not* forming the incredible relationship with her hosts that she is anticipating, but if she does, a parting gift of personal appreciation is seems entirely called for. And definitely send them reviews, and a personal note at the end of the stay!

    If the owners are the only housecleaning staff, however, I wouldn’t tip: owners set their own fees for their businesses, and pay their own salaries — if they desire supplemental income, they can simply raise their prices.

  • Greenpea March 20, 2012, 7:46 pm

    I agree with the maple syrup or maple candy suggestion! When I visited Canada last year, that’s all I brought back as gifts for my friends & family, along with a couple of bottles of ice wine. Maple candy is easier to pack & carry than syrup, but still a wonderful treat. I had never tasted maple candy prior to going to Canada.

    With a hot climate like that in Greece, they’re unlikely to have ice wine either?

    Australia has extremely strict rules on what can be brought in, and I didn’t have any problems bringing back maple syrup. If it can get into Australia, it can probably get into Greece. 🙂 Still best to check the customs regulations though.

  • MonkeysMommy March 20, 2012, 9:02 pm

    I’m guessing admin is a fellow North Carolinian?? Lol if not, those are the same things I might bring!

  • Jen March 20, 2012, 10:49 pm

    Yet another Canadian, but from the west coast. Here our go-to is hard-smoked salmon or candied salmon (check import regs, but I know folks who have brought it to Japan, etc. successfully). You can get either in nice cedar boxes that are imprinted with a first nations design for not tons of money. (Real art is incredibly expensive, but prints can be cheap).

    A simple first nations print may also be nice, and the easiest thing ever to carry. Bill Reid mini-prints can retail as low as $20 (the mass-produced ones).

  • Julia March 21, 2012, 12:07 am

    I think Mom of 3 teens has the best idea. A calendar with scenery from your home is a lovely and easily transportable gift.

  • Weaver March 21, 2012, 4:14 am

    Cat – I’m seconding Kirsten. I’m a Brit too and no one I know would think to look askance at a gift of fresh roses, whether it be a friend, a family member or a romantic partner. They’d probably be over the moon! It’s your friend’s reaction I find a tad surprising. The important thing, though, is what did your sister-in-law think?

  • Enna March 21, 2012, 7:23 am

    @ Gee also you don’t know if the person who is to receive the gift is tee total.

  • Deanna March 21, 2012, 9:39 am

    When we were in Rome and Santorini this past year we brought several jars of penut butter and buckeyes with us as gifts for housekeeping along with our usual tips, . BTW, if you get the chance send yourself home some of the Boutari wine, we loved it while we were in Santorini and I am totally unable to find it here in the states. My one word of advice is carry plenty of change with you, we found that many of the restrooms (when you can even find one) are pay, the ones we found in Santorini were about .50 euro.

  • OP March 22, 2012, 2:45 pm

    OP here!! Thanks to everyone for their wonderful suggestions!! Amazingly, I hadn’t even thought of maple candy – I was so focused on something from my hometown, rather than my home country, that it didn’t even occur to me! Like Jen, I am also a west coast Canadian – actually, I live on Vancouver Island – where maple products are not common. However, there are some lovely local candy shops (one has been in business since 1885 and is still in its original location!) who I am sure produce maple candy. I also like the idea of smoked or candied salmon – that is a west coast thing!! These gifts both appealed to me because of the idea that if the recipient is not fond of them, they can be put out for other guests. Deanna, thanks for the advice about the Boutari wine – I will definitely be sending home many different bottles!! Also, I was not aware that ice wine is considered a Canadian thing – is it not found in other places? There is an apiary/winery near my home that makes amazing mead – if it wasn’t so inconvenient, I would love to bring that. It’s delicious!

    Thank you to everyone for helping me to be a good guest and traveler!!

  • Leslie March 22, 2012, 9:16 pm

    If I read this correctly, the OP hasn’t made her reservations and is basing her ideas on what generally happens according to guidebooks? In that case, I don’t really think a gift is necessary at all. However, I know some people like to bring things, especially when staying at a small hotel- but things like a tea towel or a calendar are probably safer to travel with and perhaps more useful. Much as I love maple syrup, I can see Greeks being bewildered by it.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 23, 2012, 9:57 am

    If you want to give a food item, after a month at another location, I’d suggest getting a local friend to mail it to you at your hotel in Santorini. That way, it will arrive at the peak of freshness, and you won’t have to worry about lost or broken luggage.

    Also, while I love your attitude, I would like to point out that a host gift is only necessary when you have actual hosts. The business owners are not hosts who invited you into their home. They are the owners of a business, for which you are paying them. Give them a treat, by all means, if you like the service, though. If they’re friendly, you might become good friends over the course of your stay.

    That’s another benefit to having a friend mail something to you. Arrange for it to arrive toward the end of your visit, and by then, you’ll be well able to gauge your relationship with the proprietors. If you like them very much, and want them to have something special, then give it to them. If you think that they are not so great, eat it yourself.

    And if you have a web page, by all means, post pictures and a review on your site, and send them the link!

  • Wink-n-Smile March 23, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Cat, is it possible that your friend wasn’t so much shocked at the roses, but at the fact you get along well with your in-laws?

    Some people have been burned so badly, they can’t conceive of a good in-law relationship.

  • Mabel March 23, 2012, 3:55 pm

    Ooh, maple syrup is a good idea. So is the review.

    Admin, my bf who is from Eastern Tennessee introduced me to Cheerwine (in the glass bottles, with sugar). Now I’m HOOKED. And of course, I can’t get it where I am. 🙁

  • Monkey March 24, 2012, 4:18 pm

    I love your collection of small food items – it sounds like A Southern Season gift basket!

  • Me March 24, 2012, 10:23 pm

    As others have said, be very careful about import regulations and any food, animal or plant products – things vary wildly by country. In my experience, the easiest things are alcohol (within the amount allowed by customs – typically one or two bottles) packaged candies and snacks and the most problematic are meat products, and any fresh fruit or vegetables.

    I’d stick to consumables, if you take a gift, though. A 20 room hotel gets, say, on average 10 guests a week. Even if just one brings a book or ornament, that’s 52 random items per year, which adds up. It’s similar to the ‘what to get the teacher’ conundrum.

    One of the best things you can do is provide glowing, *detailed* reviews on on-line review sites. Not just giving it five starts, but emphasizing the helpfulness of the owners and any other conveniences. More business will do them much more good than any other gift.